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Fan Focus: Previewing Sunderland Vs Stoke With TEAMtalk's Mark Holmes

Well whenever we play Stoke we tend to head straight to TEAMtalk's Mark Holmes for some opposition insight. He's very good so we feel no reason to change that any time soon.

Stu Forster

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So, you've told both Roker Report and Wise Men Say podcast that Stoke are yet to discover themselves under Mark Hughes. That said, the transformation hasn't resulted in you scrapping at the bottom and in any immediate danger. Is the worry that that will happen soon?

Mark Holmes: A lot depends on what happens in the transfer window before the end of the week. Stoke have rarely looked in danger of slipping into the relegation zone so far this season but there's been no consistency. Some of the performances have had fans thinking a top-10 finish is realistic but others, including quite a few recently, have left us thinking relegation is a serious concern. Unless Mark Hughes is given money to seriously strengthen I suspect that inconsistency will remain and Stoke will be in the mix at the bottom right until the end.

Former SAFC striker Kenwyne Jones has left the club. He threatened to be a world beater here when he appeared to feel like it. It's hard to judge his career at Stoke from the outside. Can you sum up his time there and your thoughts on him?

MH: The best word to describe Jones' time at Stoke would be ‘frustrating'. I don't think his finishing has ever been good enough to warrant being called a £40million player as he was by Steve Bruce but, as Sunderland fans well know, he is capable of causing even the best defenders in the league real problems. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, he's never managed to maintain that level of performance over any great length of time.

He was harshly treated at times- he was replaced by Peter Crouch after his first season despite a decent first year, and rarely given a run in the team after that even when Crouch was playing poorly - but ultimately he never did enough to nail down a place. However, he scored in the 5-0 win over Bolton in the FA Cup semi-final, scored the goal which got us into the last 32 of Europe, and was part of the best Stoke side of the Premier League era in his first year at the club.

And just as most of the ex-SAFC brigade become but a memory for Stoke fans, you get heavily linked with Lee Cattermole. Thoughts?

MH: Cattermole would hardly be a signing to get Stoke fans' pulses racing, but few would disagree that we need a player like him in midfield. Despite the team's reputation, a lack of bite and nastiness has long been missing from the team. Stoke are just too easy to play against these days and Cattermole would certainly help resolve that. He's also more comfortable on the ball than many give him credit for so could easily fit into the new style of play. The only concern would be, as you all know, keeping him out of the referee's notebook and off the treatment table.

We all hate the phrase "must win", but this is a game that will indeed be labelled that by many connected to each side. With SAFC struggling to break defensive teams down and Stoke plodding along in an unremarkable manner, tell us something that gives us hope this won't be a drab 0-0 draw.

MH: As I've mentioned, Stoke are much easier to play against these days. Whereas Pulis would undoubtedly set up defensively, Hughes will play his usual side and tell them to get onto the ball. That should make for a more attractive games than many of the previous ones at the Stadium of Light, and Sunderland are likely to get more chances than they might have done normally. Unfortunate, while the intent is there from Stoke, often the quality is not, hence goals in the right end are as hard to come by as they ever have been. It's not a great combination but hopefully John Guidetti will get a good run-out in this game. Oussama Assaidi and Charlie Adam have also been in reasonable form recently so hopefully, from our perspective, everything clicks on Wednesday night.

Are there any match ups in the game you're worried about, or any Sunderland player in particular?

MH: Ki Sung-Yueng has been an excellent signing for you and is well capable of dictating the game from midfield if he's allowed to, but Adam Johnson is the obvious threat. He's in cracking form and tends to play well against Stoke anyway so he's definitely one I hope Hughes has got a plan for.

And can we nab a score prediction from yourself?

MH: If I was a neutral, I'd be betting on a 1-0 win. Sunderland are that little bit more desperate for the win, are in better form and are at home, while Stoke have got the worst away record in the league, are struggling to score and rarely keep clean sheets any more.

However, I'm not neutral so I'll let my heart rule my head and back a 2-1 away win with Adam and Assaidi having stormers, and Guidetti getting his first goal.

How do you see the season panning out for both sides?

MH: I'll feel a lot more comfortable answering this in a week's time. At the moment I'm expecting Stoke to be firmly in the mire within the next month, but a couple of decent signings would make me feel completely differently. Whatever happens, though, I think Stoke will just about survive.

As for Sunderland, I'm even more undecided. Gus Poyet has already strengthened and some of the performances recently have been brilliant, but for some reason the wins continue to be hard to come by at home. Beating Stoke could be a turning point but there are some tough fixtures to come after that so at this moment in time I'll have to unfortunately predict relegation.

Well thanks to Mark there for........wait a minute, what? He thinks we'll go down? Boooooooooooooo. Let's hope this isn't the last time we'll need him and we'll have this fixture in the league next year.